High Technology Aikido for Children

Chapter 3 - Fun Drilling and Motivational Ideas for Aikido for Children


John Sing (singj@us.ibm.com)
August 30, 2001

This article is Chapter 3 in a three part series about Ken Ota Sensei's unique, successful, and innovative approach to teaching Aikido to children.  It is based on over 35 successful years of excellence in teaching Aikido, Judo, and Ballroom Dancing to both adults and children, using a complete physical / emotional / psychological approach.

In this article, we'll examine in depth Ota Sensei's successful methods and suggestions for increasing your fun and effectiveness in teaching Aikido to Children, focusing on the topics of Fun Aikido Children's Drills, Games, and Motivational Ideas.

This 3 part series discussed:

As always, no written article can truly capture the full flavor of what's available.   For more information, please take advantage of Ken Ota's open invitation to call or visit him at anytime  He would love to share with you what he has learned so that you may enhance your own Aikido, ukemi, and ability to teach Aikido to children.

Kenji Ota Sensei
Goleta Aikido with Ki
255 Magnolia
Goleta, California 93117
(805) 967-3103

(Note:  each of the following web pages have many Quicktime movies.   Please allow time for the movies to load.  Click here to go to the Quicktime Player download website.)

Q:  Sensei, what ideas do you have for the children to have as much fun as possible while they are learning Aikido?

Ota Sensei:    We really have to remember that in a certain sense, we are in the entertainment business when we are teaching Aikido to Children.  Children will learn fastest when they are really involved,  really interested, really kept alert, when they are really having fun.

So here are some of our non-traditional ideas for keeping the children interested in Aikido!  We rely heavily on the use older students as primary helpers to help teach, and we do a large amount of drills as a primary teaching vehicle.  We tell the older students that "if they can't teach it to someone else, they don't know the technique yet".   We also make sure we arrange special 'older children only' drills or techniques during the class as a reward for the help these students give to the younger ones.

Here are some of the drills we use that are very fun for the Aikido children.   Many of the drills will be difficult to visualize without seeing them in person or in motion video, but I've described them briefly here to give you a rudimentary idea of what's possible for you:

Q:  I understand that you spend a full 40% of the class time on Ukemi and Warmups/Body Conditioning Drills?

Ota Sensei:  True!  We purposely spend the first 20% of class on ukemi practice (for reasons outlined in chapter 1 of this series), and we spend the next 20% of the class on warmup drills.   The reason for such a large amount of ukemi and warmup drills is that we know we have a great deal of kid energy that we must channel and focus;  as well we need to build up their agility, body control, strength, and endurance.  By doing these first, we burn off the excess kid energy and they are then tired enough to be calm and relaxed, and then they can easily focus their minds on their bodies.  Amazing, isn't it?

The warmup and conditioning drills that we do are specifically designed to teach various Aikido and body strengthening skills.  Here are some of the many games that we give our children to do in this segment of the class:

Fun Aikido Warmup Drills for Children

A sampling of tools and Aikido techniques using the length of the mat for children to do:

Fun Body Conditioning Drills for Children

A sampling of tools and conditioning exercises for children to do without moving on the mat:

Fun Children Aikido Games

Good ukemi is really a prerequisite for playing many of these games at a level of speed:

Ota Sensei:  We also cool them down afterwards, here are some fun Children Cool down Games to complete their children's energy:

All these games give the children opportunity to interact with each other in positive way (they are going to interact with each other anyway), and gets the maximum drilling and conditioning done in the minimum amount of time.   This is the purpose of the warmup games.

Q:  What do you mean by "Appointing the older children as Team Captains"?

Ota Sensei:   We always nominate older children (who are mature enough and ready) to be 'Team Captains' to monitor and teach and monitor two other younger children, the older children are the ones that 'qualify when ready' for the 'honor' of being the team captain.  We reward them with special drills and techniques just for them.  More importantly, for many older children it is the first time that they learn they are capable of responsibility and leadership, and they quickly find out how capable they are compared to their younger classmates.

The team captain is a title that is earned, so there will always be some older kids that are not ready;  but because they quickly will find out that they need to earn the right, they will push themselves to earn the right to be a team captain.  All the older children learn to be a role models for the younger childrer, in this way you have them as your helpers to keept the younger children in practice safely, staying in order, and become good students.

Q:  What are these Fun Warmup Relay Race Games that you use for teaching Motivation, Teamwork, and Leadership?

Ota Sensei:   We use friendly, properly regulated, teach-you-about-competitive-realities-of-life warmup games in Aikido Children's classes after we finish ukemi practice.   These games serve as an excellent teaching tool for Aikido basics like rolling and hopping, and provide body conditioning for the children.  Most importantly, the warmup games burn off excess child energy so they can be present and calm enough to enjoy learning Aikido techniques.

The following benefits are derived from using warmup relay races:

It is unfortunate that competition has a bad name in our society, especially as it pertains to children's education.  For this reason, and also because O'Sensei clearly prohibited competition in Aikido, there is significant resistance to competition in any way within Aikido.  We understand this.

However, Ota Sensei suggests that in the specific case of warmup relay race games, the spirit of healthy fair competition is usable and invaluable in teaching life lessons to children.  To maintain fairness and accomplish these objectives, we use a very specific handicapping system in the warmup relay races. This handicapping system transforms the warmup relay race games into a superior tool for teaching healthy self-confidence and independence; it teaches the children to let go of ego.

Ota Sensei believes the relay race warmup games are in no way in conflict with the concept of non-competition for Aikido, because the games are not about competing with the Aikido techniques.

Q:  So you use a Handicapping System in Warmup Relay Race Games to eliminate the downsides of competition among the children?

Ota Sensei:   Absolutely.    Our 'handicapping system' in the warmup relay races are the essential key element that makes the relay races useful by continually equalizing the teams and their chances to win.

In this way, no child's ego hurt by too much losing, nor is anyone's ego inflated by overconfidence of winning.  Children learn that the warmup games are not about who is 'stronger, faster, weaker, slower'.  Rather, they  know that if they work really hard, they all have an equal chance to win a reward.  The best team doesn't always win (in some cases, by design of the instructors).   Strong, fast children need to learn that life is like this.  Small, less coordinated children sometimes win, IF they work really hard up to the level of their ability.

This promotes a healthy self-confidence and image in all.  The small  reward  is not the prize, of course, it is the recognition that motivates the children.  These important life lessons are the real gifts that we are trying to give our children, and we're just using Aikido as a tool.    For many children, this is a experience missing from the rest of their lives in school , elsewhere on the playground, or even in competing with their brothers and sisters for attention from their parents.

Q:  How would I run a Aikido Children's Warmup Relay Races using the Handicapping System?

Ota Sensei:  I realize the following discussion is going to be difficult to follow without seeing it in action.  Regardless, I document it here for you and future generations to know what it is that we do, how we do it, and how you could do it for yourself.    Here are the steps: Here is a copy of the scoresheet, you can see how the games evolve:

Q:  So the purpose of the warmup relay games is to develop the children's healthy self confidence, without ego?

Ota Sensei :   That's right.   All these games, including the healthy, regulated warmup games with fair competition, are vital to help the children experience and develop a healthy self confidence without ego;  to prepare them for the realities of life as an older child, a teenager, as an adult..

Because of the handicapping systems, the relay games become a primary tool to help the child learn to compete with the child's self.  The games encourage them to be the best that they can be.... and not to be better than someone else.   When children start to learn that they are the only ones that hurt their own chances... and that each of them are the responsible ones for helping their team........... then we have given them a powerful tool to determine their own destiny!  We have given them an experience of competing and winning in a fair and honest manner.

Properly done, these warmup games are especially beneficial to young females:  it helps them develop their independent spirits and be able to take care of themselves, to realize their own potential , develop their own self-confidence, to see that their gender does not in any way limit them from achieving their potential.

Children learn leadership, learn to support and interact with their teammates and their friendly competitors in a positive manner. Friendly competition, properly applied, results in children interacting with each other and highly motivating each other in natural ways that cannot be done sole by teachers.

Q:  Sensei, please tell me about your highly modified Children's Belt System used for further Motivation?

Ota Sensei:  The best motivation for children is when they see other children their own age doing things that are good.  In a healthy way, this subtle competition invokes their internal desire to improve.

Here's a copy of the the yellow/orange belt level:

All of these principles could be adult-ized for your regular classes as appropriate.

Q:  Finally, what do you see is the true role of Adults and the older child students?

Ota Sensei :   We specifically trains adults and upper belts to be very effective as one-on-one teachers to the lower belts.  I believe that if you can't teach a technique quickly, kindly, and effectively to a lower belt, then you don't yet know it yourself.    Therefore, in all classes, the senior students are charged to go find a lower belt to teach.  This raises the overall skill of the dojo as quickly as possible.

If the technique is particularly new or difficult, sometimes I will have the upper belts practice with each other so that they get the technique down and have some good practice among themselves before teaching the lower belts.  Or, as a reward to the upper belts, after teaching the lower belts, I have  the lower belts sit and put the upper belts together practice between  themselves.  This is very motivational for all involved and a reward, recognition, and better hard practice for the upper belts.


Q:  Sensei, certainly some very interesting, entertaining, and unusual ideas.   What final thoughts would you like to leave us with concerning teaching Aikido to Children?

Ota Sensei:    In summary, I see the role of of all of us as Aikido children teachers and senior children students as being in the most beautiful role of human life:  giving back to the younger ones the same gifts and lessons that were given to us.  In this way we pass on and improve our human race in the most generous manner possible.

As teachers of Aikido Children, we should keep in mind these final thoughts:

Summary: Aikido for Children

Aikido for Children, specifically tuned through advanced high technology methodology and innovative drilling, is a beautiful tool to teach life skills to children.  Children properly taught and highly motivated at this young age will naturally develop great Aikido at the same time.

We hope you have enjoyed this documentary three part series on the unique teaching philsophy and ideas of Ken Ota Sensei for teaching Aikido to Children. Be sure to see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series if you missed them.

We owe it to our children to not only give them Aikido philosophy, but also the true Aikido ability to be able to appropriately, wisely,  and powerfully use Aikido for real on the playground or in real life danger situations if they ever need to.

Some of the ideas in this article may seem quite a bit out of the ordinary.  However, we suggest that the world our children are growing up in has radically changed, but education and teaching methods haven't necessarily changed with it.  Therefore, as parents or as role models, we need to be open to new and bold, effective ideas.   In over 35 years of teaching, Ken Ota's methods have graduated over 30,000 students.  We offer those ideas and methods here for your enjoyment and use.

Aikido is a powerful tool for all of us is to develop the ATTITUDE of self-confidence with kindness, power with gentleness, speed with grace.  To give to our children the ability to see, learn, and do Aikido in both spirit and relationship will be a gift for their lifetimes.

For more information,  please take advantage of Ota's invitation to call or visit him at anytime.  He would love to share with you what he has learned so that you may enhance your own Aikido, ukemi, and ability to teach Aikido to children:

Kenji Ota Sensei
Goleta Aikido with Ki
255 Magnolia
Goleta, California 93117
(805) 967-3103

From all of us in Goleta Aikido with Ki, Thank You for visiting this article.

(Ken Ota is seated in the front row on the left, with his wife Miye to his left).

Article written by:

John Sing
August 1, 2001

Where to buy gymnastics Pads and Barriers

You can get the kind of gymnastics landing pads and jumping barriers that we use from:

American Athletic, Inc. - Mats - http://www.americanathletic.com/matspadding.html
American Athletic, Inc. - 'Action Shapes' - http://www.americanathletic.com/actionshapes.html